The Land of the Free (press) — Part
Copyright 1990 by Bill Becker
Among Los Angeles activists in the anti-intervention movement, the Los Angeles
Times's man in Managua, Richard Boudreaux, is widely suspected of an anti-Sandinista bias.
Where bias by media professionals against Washington's clearly labeled adversaries is believed
to exist, it is usually attributed to values shared with the State Department (consciously or
unconsciously), or, less charitably, to purposeful covert complicity in the administration's efforts
to deceive the American public.
But, determining another's motives is an almost impossible task, because for any
given behavior, the actor can usually come up with a motive directly contrary to the one of which
he or she is accused, and for which the behavior in question will be, in the eyes of many,
acceptable evidence of the claimed motivation. 2
The question here is whether the journalistic product of a particular reporter over
time supports a charge of pro-Washington bias, or instead shows a strict adherence to the
precepts of journalistic "objectivity" (itself a slippery concept, in fact). In what follows, I will
discuss two of Richard Boudreaux's articles. Each deals with distinct, but connected themes:
democracy in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas; and the "fear" of the Sandinistas felt by their
opponents and the contras as Nicaragua makes its transition to the new government of Violetta
Barrios de Chamorro.
Rather than leading with the conventional accusation that Boudreaux weights his
reporting against the Sandinistas whenever he can, I propose that we analyze the first article from
a different perspective. In fact, we will give him the benefit of every doubt, and assume the best
of intentions on his part.
Moreover, let us look at the article from a point-of-view other than that of
opponents of U.S. intervention in poor nations. Let us read it from the point-of-view of
Iran/contra figure Oliver North. 3
The method will be simplicity itself. As we imagine North reading Boudreaux's
reports, all we need ask is whether he would be pleased or displeased.
The criteria by which we can confidently judge North's response to Boudreaux's
reporting are clear: he would approve of whatever in the article casts the Sandinistas in a bad
light, or that casts the contras in a good light. Conversely, he would disapprove of anything that
casts the Sandinistas in a good light, or that casts the contras in a bad light.
(Note: This page, created in July, 2012, is an enhancement of the 1990 original.
For the reader's convenience, I have included the full text of Boudreaux's first article in the
Appendix. Each paragraph is numbered. Considering that I present a line-by-line analysis of his
report, I believe that I am well within the limits of "fair use".)
THE NICARAGUAN ELECTION OF 1984
Before beginning the analysis, however, we must discuss in some detail the
Nicaraguan election of 1984.
In August 1980, in power just over a year, the Sandinistas announced that
elections would be held in 1985. They considered improving the wretched social conditions
created by Somoza to be more important than satisfying U.S. demands for an election.
4 They argued that elections are meaningless in a nation of
staggering poverty, illiteracy, almost non-existent health care for the poor, and vast inequities in
the distribution of land and resources.
By late 1983, however, the contra war was having serious effects on the economy
and on social programs. The Sandinistas realized that there would be no benefit in holding to the
original election timetable, thus giving Reagan the opportunity to campaign against, and increase
his military pressure upon, the unelected Sandinista "dictatorship" of Nicaragua.
Consequently, in early 1984, after 4 years of pursuing their "preferential option for
the poor," and making quite respectable progress in most of the problem areas they undertook to
improve 5, the Sandinistas announced that elections would be held on November 4,
two days before the U.S. Presidential election, and a year ahead of the original schedule.
The elections were organized and carried out under intense international scrutiny,
all the while being denounced by the U.S. as a "Soviet-style sham." On the other hand, most
observers without a stake in the cold war judged the elections to be remarkably fair and open
under the circumstances, and concluded that the candidates and the Nicaraguan people were able
to exercise their electoral privileges in a climate free of intimidation and fear.
Some 93% of Nicaragua's eligible voters registered to vote, and of those, 75%
turned out, attesting to the effectiveness of the Supreme Electoral Council in convincing them
that, this time, their vote would really count.
The Sandinistas won the election with 67% of the vote, which translated into 64%
of the seats in the National Assembly through a representation formula that favors smaller
political parties. That the Nicaraguan people freely chose the Sandinistas to continue running the
country is so undisputed that Washington and the mainstream press have chosen to ignore the
election rather than continue to challenge its validity.
The U.S. concentrated it efforts to subvert the election through control of a small
group of labor unions and right-wing political parties called the "Coordinadora." After much
dissembling and manipulation, Washington finally engineered the Coordinadora's withdrawal
from the election, citing unfair election practices and intimidation by the Sandinistas.
More objective viewers saw these tactics differently: as attempts to discredit the
election so Washington could continue destabilizing Nicaragua through the contra war. Indeed,
their view was later corroborated by none other than Washington's own point man for democracy
in Nicaragua, businessman Arturo Cruz (who had briefly served first with the Sandinistas, and
later with the contras). In an interview with Steven Kinzer (New York Times, January 8, 1988)
Cruz expressed regret for having opted out as the Coordinadora's presidential candidate. His
withdrawal, after only a few days campaigning, was at the behest of the CIA, which controlled
his activities (and his finances). The excuse was the disruption of one or two of his rallies by
young Sandinistas. In the interview, Cruz said that he believed the coalition never intended to
run, but wanted only to embarrass the Sandinistas. Had Cruz and his running-mate stayed in the
race, as losing candidates they would automatically have been seated in the National Assembly.
There they could have worked with conservative Sandinista opponents Virgilio Godoy and
Clemente Guido to promote an agenda more to Washington's liking. 6
U.S. RESPONSE TO THE ELECTION
The mainstream discussion of the '84 election can itself be seen only as an
exercise in bad faith: first, the Sandinistas were criticized for not holding elections immediately,
the argument being that revolutionaries should magnanimously cede a share of power equal to
their own to late-comers and fence-sitters, many of whom were complicit in creating the
conditions that led to the revolution. This proposal is purely disingenuous.
Second, Washington's demand for early elections was almost certainly a charade.
U.S. officials have since acknowledged that if an election had been held in the early days of the
revolution, the Sandinistas would have won hands down. By not holding early elections, the
Sandinistas provided the Reagan administration with an effective propagaqnda club to bash them
with, and a useful excuse for the creation of President Reagan's "freedom fighters," recruited
from the leftovers of Somoza's National Guard.
Third, Washington and the mainstream media have held Nicaragua to a much
higher standard of democracy than is applied to U.S. client states. Extensive human rights
violations by the armies and death squads of El Salvador and Guatemala, and their systematic
repression of politicians, activists, and political activities to the left of the center-right, make all
talk of democratic process in these two countries ridiculous. Yet the Administration, the pundits,
and the mainstream editorialists and news anchors tout these nations as "burgeoning
I. Los Angeles Times, February 6, 1990, p.
by Richard Boudreaux, Times staff writer.
Title: Costa Rica's Election Furnishes a Lesson in Democracy
Teaser: Central America: Nicaragua will also vote this month. But the civic experiences of the
two neighbors are a study in contrasts.
Category: News Analysis.
To begin, we can assume that the last topic Oliver North would want to see
discussed in an analysis of Nicaraguan democracy would be the election of 1984. Nor will he be
discomfitted here - Boudreaux does not mention it once.
North would be certainly pleased with the headline-teaser combination. By itself,
the news that "Costa Rica's Election Furnishes a Lesson in Democracy" does not mean much,
since the object of the lesson is not specified. But, everyone knows that Costa Rica is the
"Switzerland of Central America." Consequently, if Nicarauga's civic experience, as reported in
the teaser, is a "study in contrasts" with the Switzerland of Central America's, the ground is
prepared for a belief that Nicaragua will probably not heed the "lesson" Costa Rica offers.
Paragraphs 1 and 2, reporting that Nicaraguan President Ortega "sneered"
at Costa Ricas electoral process, confirms this impression immediately. Who but a bad guy
would "sneer" at an election held in the Switzerland of Central America? Also, "sneerers" are
less inclined than most toward learning "lessons."
The suggestion in Paragraph 3 that Nicaragua's election, scheduled for
February 25, is "largely because of [Costa Rican president] Arias' efforts to end the U.S.-backed
contra war in Nicaragua," would certainly please North. While he cannot be happy with Arias'
interference with his efforts to establish a contra Southern Front in Costa Rica, North should
nevertheless approve of the implication that the Sandinistas are so undemocratic that they need to
be dragged to the voting booth (by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, no less). Since the '84 election is
not mentioned, Boudreaux need not comment on the fact that the Sandinistas moved the election
up from its normally scheduled date in November, in return for support for demobilization of the
contras from the other four Central American presidents.
(Here we can imagine a special, more personal satisfaction for North as he reads
Boudreaux's text. North would not be human if he did not take some personal credit for the
Sandinistas' capitulation to the deadly, albeit "low-intensity," conflict he so effectively unleashed
on their peasant and campesino supporters. He would surely savor Boudreaux's
"salt-in-the-wound" remark about Ortega's having to "eat" his earlier criticism of Costa Rica's
In Paragraph 4, Boudreaux reports Costa Rican President Arias's
statement that the Sandinistas could never win an election under the democratic standards of
Costa Rica. The attempt at balance ("whether or not this is true") would be O.K. by North, since
it is immediately offset by mentioning Costa Rica's "smooth election of Arias' successor" and the
"striking difference between the two neighbors' experience with democracy."
Paragraph 5 promises to show that the Sandinistas' lead over the
U.S.-backed opposition is the result of "some of these contrasts." It apparently did not occur to
Boudreaux that the Sandinistas might enjoy their lead because the Nicaraguan majority believes
in their programs. Such lack of imagination would certainly please North.
Of Paragraph 7, North would simply say: "I couldn't have written it better
Boudreaux begins by noting "Nicaragua, plagued by militarism, has no tradition
of open and honest elections." This statement is literally true, of course, because any tradition is
by definition a function of several similar, purposely planned events. Since all the elections held
in Nicaragua under the Somoza dynasty were rigged, there could be no "tradition of open and
honest elections" based solely on the election of 1984. (Had North and his colleagues been given
the task of discussing Nicaraguan democracy while ignoring the '84 election, they would be hard
pressed to come up with a "neater" idea than to make "a tradition of free and fair elections" the
lynchpin of the article.)
Nor could they top Boudreaux's report of the "fear" felt by Sandinista opponents
that Nicaraguan voters will not vote against Ortega "out of apathy or fear." "Fear" and implied
violence and corruption will naturally trouble us here, especially since we have just learned in
Paragraph 6 that Costa Rica's 1948 revolution resulted in the abolition of its army. Can
we be blamed if we conclude that the Sandinistas are maintaining their army because of loyalty to
While Boudreaux does report that Organization of American States Secretary
General Joao Baena Soares expressed satisfaction with preparations for the vote, this item is
placed at the end of the article (Paragraph 21), far from the report of the "fear" expressed
by "Sandinista opponents." Omitted entirely is the fact that the electoral process received passing
grades from prestigious American observers such as former President Jimmy Carter and former
Attorney General Elliot Richardson.
We know that Boudreaux is aware of the high registration figure (over 90%) for
the February election because he reported on it in November (see footnote 11d), and it strains the
imagination to believe that he was not aware of Nicaraguans' high degree of participation in the
'84 election. It is also clear that a few comments on these items would have been rendered the
"fear" of "apathy and fear" expressed by these (unidentified) Sandinista opponents unmentionable
except to their ridicule. We will probably never know why Boudreaux did not balance the
comments of the "Sandinista opponents," but we can be sure that Oliver North would heartily
approve of his failure to do so. 8
OLIVER NORTH IS HAPPY SO FAR
Thus, halfway into the article, Oliver North should be delighted that Times
readers have had no opportunity to judge for themselves whether Nicaraguans might have
positive reasons to support the Sandinistas. All the better that Boudreaux also neglects to
mention that UNO never condemned contra violence, and that the Sandinistas have consistently
made good-faith, and initially effective, efforts to better the lot of the majority of Nicaraguans
(according to the British private aid organization OXFAM, among others). Evidently such
efforts and achievements as these, being rather similar to the Costa Rican emphasis on public
services, do not "explain" anything.
But, for that stubborn reader still willing to give Ortega his due, Boudreaux
explains in Paragraph 9 that any support for Ortega is based on a "Latin" inclination to
"strongman worship." Apparently, Ortega has triggered this latency through "effective
campaigning," much as Pavlov triggered salivation in his dogs by ringing a bell. North would
surely enjoy Boudreaux's not-so-subtle put down of Sandinista supporters (to say nothing of the
insult to all Latin Americans).
North could hardly expect more from this article, but after reading Paragraph
11 we can almost hear his soft whistle of admiration.
Again, Boudreaux begins with the literal truth: in a decade of Sandinista rule, the
Nicaraguan economy has slumped dramatically. Evidently unable to find anyone to
explain why, Boudreaux settles for "pollsters" who said "Ortega has been at least partly
successful in shifting blame to the contras and their American sponsors and running as a defender
of Nicaraguan nationalism."
It is understood by everyone, of course, that only the guilty attempt to shift blame
(and what is meant here is the whole blame). If instead the pollsters had said "Ortega
has been at least partly successful in shifting his share of the blame to the contras and
their American sponsors," the reader would have immediately understood that "others" were also
to blame, and more likely than not they would assign the remainder of the blame to the "contras
and their American sponsors." (There must not have been any "Sandinista supporters" in the
neighborhood to suggest that, evidently.)
North would also be pleased with the tacit negation of the effects of several
thousand of his marauding killers, operating from safe havens in Honduras, supplied by the U.S.
with the latest military gear and weapons, and committing unspeakable atrocities, primarily
against defenseless Nicaraguan peasants and their children.
And then there is another insult to Sandinista supporters. After all, who but the
gullible are fooled by attempts of the guilty to shift blame? (Note that here the earlier
insult from a "norteamericano" [see Paragraph 9] has been balanced by one from other
Nicaraguans. Boudreaux can now defend his earlier faux pas by saying "See, I'm not the only
one who thinks they're dumb.")
Thus, peasants who join a Sandinista-organized agricultural cooperative, or who
bring their kids to a Sandinista-built health clinic (for the first time in their lives) may believe
that the contras who burned the harvested grain and destroyed the clinic are to blame, but, thanks
to Boudreaux's "pollsters," we now know that they have simply been duped by the real villains,
the Sandinistas. Likewise are these peasants gulled into thinking that the Sandinistas, as the only
group fighting against the wholly U.S.-owned contras, are defenders of Nicaraguan nationalism.
North would immediately recognize Paragraphs 16 and 17 as the source
of the headline and the teaser. Here the theme that Nicaragua under the Sandinistas will probably
not learn the lessons inherent in the Costa Rican election is stated explicitly. Indeed, Nicaraguan
opposition leaders suggest that the Sandinistas, if they lose, will not even concede defeat.
Paragraph 20 would please North, if only because it bears some
resemblance to the kind of dissembling that characterized his own testimony to Congress during
the Iran/contra investigation.
Boudreaux's statement about "the absence of voter registration cards" is puzzling,
because of his November mention of the 90% registration rate. (See footnote 11d.)
Only the temporary unavailability of registration cards at a particular time or place would make
the "absence of voter registration cards" true, and such difficulties had been resolved long before
this article was written.
(Boudreaux does not present this statement as from a "Sandinista opponent," but
rather as the sober opinion of one - himself - who knows about democratic electoral processes
and recognizes a serious flaw when he sees one. Does he mean to convince us here that
Nicaraguan democracy is at risk because young Nicaraguans do not automatically receive voter
registration cards upon reaching age 18, as do their Costa Rican counterparts? If so, then perhaps
he should consider writing about the danger to our own democracy, in which no newly-turned-18
citizen automatically receives a voter registration card. )
In any case, Boudreaux must know that those who voted in the 1984 election-86%
of those who registered--turned in their cards when they received their ballot, and that the cards
will serve as a basis for future demographic studies. While Boudreaux's comment about the
cards might have been inadvertent, North would be pleased with the way it led into a line about
potential vote fraud.
GLOSS OVER PROBLEMS FACING COSTA RICAN DEMOCRACY
As well as enjoying Boudreaux's negative treatment of the Sandinistas, North
would also approve of his shallow report on Calderon's history as a presidential candidate. In
Costa Rica's 1986 election, in which he was defeated by Arias, Calderon campaigned on the
platform of abandoning Costa Rican neutrality and (tacitly) welcoming the contras. Had he won
the presidency, the Honduranization of Costa Rica would have been a certainty (and North would
probably have been a frequent and honored guest at the Calderon villa).
Calderon may have inherited this cavalier attitude toward Costa Rican democracy
from his father, Rafael Calderon Guardia (himself president of Costa Rica from 1940 to 1944).
In 1948, after losing a presidential bid, the elder Calderon's attempt to nullify the vote led to a
civil war which resulted in his own forced exile to Nicaragua. Did the children of Costa Rica, in
their own mock election, elect Calderon's opponent because they knew the history of the
Calderon family? (Paragraph 19) 9
End discussion of first Boudreaux article.
II. Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1990
by Richard Boudreaux and Tracy Wilkinson, Times staff writers. Dateline: Managua.
Title: Ortega Orders Truce to Get Contras to Disarm
Teaser: Nicaragua: He urges the United States to halt all aid to the rebels. Honduras is asked to
shut their camps.
Category: News article.
Boudreaux and Wilkinson present here a post-election article which reinforces the
theme of contra fear of Sandinista reprisals that Boudreaux had made sure to cover in previous
articles. In this discussion of Ortega's re-instatement of the cease-fire he had called off in
November, they present a truly breath-taking account of the situation:
"Because the rebels never officially renounced the cease-fire, Ortega's decision
restored a mutual suspension of hostilities."
Boudreaux and Wilkinson then report that the rebels "welcomed Ortega's decision
to renew the cease-fire, but [they] will urge international observers to monitor it." Thus is
created in the reader's imagination an image of evil Sandinistas lying in wait to ambush
war-weary contras who had been foolish enough to give up their
As Boudreaux knows perfectly well, Ortega called off the cease-fire, which the
Sandinista army had observed unilaterally for 19 months, because the contras killed some
736 people, and wounded 1153 during that period. He also knows that the Sandinistas
offered an amnesty to contras who wished to return. He knows these things because he reported
In six articles Boureaux wrote about Ortega's decision to call off the cease-fire
(two with David Lauter), he offers heavy doses of criticism and "outrage" over Ortega's decision.
By contrast, articles that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor during the
same period reveal understanding, even sympathy, from other participants at the hemispheric
summit at which Ortega made the announcement. 12
There is ample background, even in Boudreaux's own articles, to justify including
in the present report a comment or two as to the contras' responsibility for the break-down of the
cease-fire-that-was-never-really-a-cease-fire. Instead, he gives us (or allows from Wilkinson) the
Orwellian "Because the rebels never officially renounced the cease-fire ..." as if they had been
observing it all along. A masterstroke indeed.
Of course it takes more than two articles to substantiate a charge of bias against
one of America's most visible foreign correspondents. Nevertheless, there is virtually nothing in
these articles that would cause Oliver North a moment's discomfort. Even a seasoned State
Department propagandist would be hard pressed to devise phrases as Orwellian as "Nicaragua,
plagued by militarism, has no tradition of open and honest elections,"
and "Because the rebels never officially renounced the cease-fire, Ortega's
decision restored a mutual suspension of hostilities." (My emphasis.) Perhaps a study of
Boudreaux's reports from Nicaragua might be a proper subject for a Ph.D. journalism thesis.
In any case, I hope that the above analysis has provided some tools by which all
reporters' work can be assessed. 13
Most of us who went to Nicaragua as observers of the February election had
accepted the common wisdom that the Sandinistas would win. Even though I hedged on this at
first, I was converted when the voters at the polling station where I observed the count went for
the FSLN over UNO by 238 to 144. Because this was in the conservative department of Boaco,
which was expected to vote overwhelmingly for UNO, I retired early Monday morning believing
that the Sandinistas had won big. The one constant in our mixed reactions to the UNO victory
was the knowledge that now it would not be necessary to convince skeptical Americans that the
Sandinistas didn't steal the election.
The emphasis given by the mainstream media to the mechanics of the election,
while ignoring Washington's message—VOTE FOR VIOLETTA AND THE WAR WILL
STOP—is another exercise in bad faith. As an observer at both the 1984 and the 1990
elections, I can say that the most important differences between them are as inseparable as they
were unexpected: this time, the election has been hailed as free and fair by press and pundit alike;
and this time, the U.S.-backed candidate won.
Woodland Hills, CA
1. In June, 1987, I distributed a tract entitled The Land of the
Free (press) to friends and others. In it I presented some personal views on the Los Angeles
Times, which were derived over a period of time in conversations with various desk staffers and
2. A good example of this is the defense of the
near-annihilation of Vietnam so as to "save it for democracy," as put up against the charge that
the real motivation was to save it for Western capitalism. The defense is ardently promoted, in
spite of the fact that few nations, if any, that were "saved for democracy" by the U.S have ever
actually became democracies. Some, like Iran and Guatemala, were on the track toward
democracy when they were "saved," and the "saviors" then plunged them into a long night of
repression that rivals any suffered under the totalitarian communist regimes. On the other hand,
the business climates in these nations either became, or remained, ideal. Indeed, it was just their
movements toward democracy, and their attempts to use national resources to benefit the nation
instead of Western multi-nationals, that awakened Washington's need to "save" them.
Defenders of the destruction, however, see this not as evidence of a brutal venality, but as an
example of the old saw that to make omelettes one must break eggs. So what if the omelette is
not a particularly good one.
3. North is the former Marine Lt. Colonel who ran
the covert arms-for-hostages/profits-to-the-contras operation so as to circumvent the laws of
Congress and the express wishes of most Americans. His desire to rid the world of the
Sandinistas was, perhaps, the equal of President Reagan's. He is, therefore, an ideal
representative of "the other side." By trying to see the issue from his viewpoint, we disarm the
charge that we ourselves are not objective.
4. ELECTORAL DEMOCRACY
Under International Pressure - The Report of The Latin American Studies Association
Commission to Observe the 1990 Nicaraguan Election, March 15, 1990. p. 7.
5. A confidential memo from the office of the U.S.
executive director to the World Bank noted that "project implementation has been extraordinarily
successful in Nicaragua in some sectors, better than anywhere else in the world." Peter
Kornbluh, Washington Post National Weekly Edition, September 4-10, 1989, p.23.
6. This information was never reported in the Los
Angeles Times, even though I requested such of its Washington-based reporter Doyle McManus
in a telephone conversation about an article he wrote about President Bush's Nicaragua policy.
("U.S.Shifts to a Kinder, Gentler Nicaragua Policy," Los Angeles Times, 9/18/89) McManus had
reported Vice-president Quayle's skepticism "whether we can in fact have free and fair elections
in Nicaragua," and I suggested to him that Times readers deserved to know something about the
'84 election, and especially about Arturo Cruz's change of heart. McManus was aware of Cruz's
sentiments and acknowledged their relevance to the issue of Nicaraguan democracy.
To my knowledge, nothing on the '84 election, or about Cruz ever came from
McManus's pen, however. But, in February, he did report State Department uncertainty as to
how the election would go: "What do we do if the Sandinistas really do win a free and fair
election. In a sense, its our worst-case senario," and "We've never been through one before," said
aides to Secratary of State James Baker. (U.S. Gets Ready For Likely Sandinista Election
Victory, Los Angeles Times, 2/24/90.)
7. I am aware of only one mainstream press
acknowledgment that the Sandinistas were the legitimate choice of the Nicaraguan people in
1984. This was in an editorial calling on the U.S. to help make the Arias peace plan work, and
calling on the contras to defeat the Sandinistas at the ballot box. ("A Step Toward Peace," Los
Angeles Herald Examiner, January 19, 1988.)
8. It is not that Boudreaux is incapable of seeing
the other side when he wants to. In "Nicaragua Moving to Free All Its Political Prisoners"
(January 30, 1990), Boudreaux does in fact provide something like "balance" to the statements of
certain "Sandinista opponents." First he reports that the anti-Sandinista Permanent Assembly for
Human Rights insisted that the Sandinistas held about 6000 political prisoners during the
summer of '89. He then goes on, somewhat unexpectedly, to quote the findings of both the
International Red Cross and Americas Watch, whose estimates of some 1,306 political prisoners
agreed closely with the Sandinistas' own count.
9. "Exiled Leader's Son Sworn as President of
Costa Rica," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1990, p. A12. Geraldine Baum, Times Staff
For more information on the threat to Costa Rica's democracy from a different
direction--now more serious because of Calderon's successful presidential bid--see: "Costa Rica:
U.S. Imposes Its Ideology," Los Angeles Times, Part V, p.2, October 30, 1988, by Martha
Honey. Honey and her husband Tony Avirgan are reporters who live permanently in Costa Rica.
Their investigation of the CIA's suspected attempt to assassinate maverick contra leader Eden
Pastora in 1984 forced the revelation of the Iran/Contra scandal.
10. To my knowledge, Wilkinson had not been on
this "beat" for at least the year preceding this article. Accordingly, as the senior reporter who
should have checked her contribution for accuracy, Boudreaux can be held responsible for the
11. a: "Nicaragua to End Truce With Rebels,"
10/29/89, Richard Boudreaux, with David Lauter.
b: "Bush Blasts Ortega as 'Shameful'," 10/29/89, Richard Boudreaux, with David
c: "Ortega Threat on Contras Carries Risks for Regime," 10/30/89, Richard
d: "Truce Is Over, Ortega Declares," 11/2/89, Richard Boudreaux.
e: "Sandinistas Disclose Plan to Resettle Rebels," 11/3/89, Richard Boudreaux.
f: "Evidence Linked to Contras in Ambush That Killed 18," 11/7/89, Richard
12. "Contra War Overshadows Summit," J.D.
Gannon, Christian Science Monitor, October 30, 1989.
"Ortega's Big Gamble," Brook Larmer, Christian Science Monitor, November 3, 1989.
13: It would only be fair, of course, for the reader to also
read these articles from the point-of-view of a hard-line Marxist. If the Marxist would be happy,
then we have evidence of a bias in favor of Washington's enemies. The possibilities are endless.
I purchased the following text of the Boudreaux article from the
ProQuest archiver facility. $3.95
NEWS ANALYSIS Costa Rica's Election Furnishes a Lesson in Democracy Central America:
Nicaragua will also vote for a president this month. But the civic experiences of the two
neighbors are a study in contrasts.
Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext) - Los Angeles, Calif.
Author: RICHARD BOUDREAUX
Date: Feb 6, 1990
Start Page: 10
Section: PART-A; Foreign Desk
Text Word Count: 945
Document Text [Paragraph numbering by Bill Becker.]
1. When Oscar Arias Sanchez was elected to govern this country four years ago, his
neighbor, President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, sneered.
2. Costa Rica's political system, envied by many in Latin America as a model of stability,
was a "bourgeois democracy," Ortega said. "It's like a lottery," he added, in which power is
"raffled" among factions of the upper class instead of being held by a "popular vanguard" like his
Sandinista National Liberation Front.
3. In less than three weeks, Ortega will eat his words. Largely because of Arias' efforts to
end the U.S.-backed Contra war in Nicaragua, Ortega has agreed to put the Sandinistas'
"vanguard" status and his own job on the line in a highly competitive election with all the
"bourgeois" features of any Western democracy.
4. Arias once suggested privately that the Sandinistas could never win an election under the
democratic standards of Costa Rica. Whether or not this is true, Sunday's smooth election here of
Arias' successor underscored the striking differences between the two neighbors' experience with
5. Some of those contrasts help explain why the Sandinistas hold an advantage over their
main rival, the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Opposition Union, in the Feb. 25 election:
6. - Costa Rica's balloting was the 10th in a row to be conducted peacefully since a 1948
popular uprising against vote tampering, a revolution that perfected its electoral system to a
science and abolished its army as an anachronism.
7. Nicaragua, plagued by militarism, has no tradition of open and honest elections. That
history, the Sandinistas' opponents fear, will discourage Nicaraguans from voting against Ortega,
out of apathy or fear.
8. - Costa Rican presidents are limited to a single four-year term and barred from active
politicking for a successor. Arias, despite his enormous popularity, failed to transfer his magic,
and his party's nominee was defeated.
9. In Nicaragua, Ortega rejected demands by the opposition to outlaw presidential
succession. According to opinion surveys, he is more popular among Nicaraguans than his party
as a whole. He has capitalized, through effective campaigning, on the Latin tradition of
caudillismo, or strongman worship.
10. - Costa Rica has solved so many of the political problems besieging other Latin
democracies that economic issues get more attention here. Thus, despite an average growth rate
of 5% a year under Arias, opposition candidate Rafael Angel Calderon won the presidency with a
populist campaign offering a share of the new wealth to the poorest third of the populace.
11. In a decade of Sandinista rule, Nicaragua's economy has slumped dramatically. Yet,
according to pollsters, Ortega has been at least partly successful in shifting blame to the Contras
and their American sponsors and running as a defender of Nicaraguan nationalism.
12. - A secondary factor in Calderon's victory, political analysts say, was Costa Rican voters'
deep suspicion of political dynasties. Their hesitation to vote again for Arias' National Liberation
Party, which has held power since 1982, was reinforced by drug-related corruption charges
against some of its leaders. Since 1948, no party here has won three straight four-year terms.
13. Nicaraguans are suspicious of dynasties too, having helped the Sandinista guerrillas
topple the four-decade-old Somoza family dictatorship in 1979.
14. Yet, while Costa Rica's revolution was fought to ensure a multi-party democracy, the
Sandinistas came to power with the intent to stay there as a revolutionary "vanguard"-a will that
still pervades the party's well-organized ranks and makes it a formidable electoral machine.
15. On the other hand, leaders of the 14 parties backing Violeta Barrios de Chamorro,
Ortega's leading challenger, are relatively new to politics, having placed their bets on the Contras
until that war was undermined by Arias' peace plan.
16. Nicaraguan opposition leaders were quick to point to Arias' party's acceptance of defeat
as "an excellent lesson in democracy" for their country. But Costa Ricans cautioned against
17. "Our system of elections is something we achieved after bouts with dictatorships, fraud
and a civil war," Manuel Araya, a historian, said. "This is not something learned easily by one
country from another."
18. Observers from other Latin American countries said they were impressed by the openness
with which Costa Ricans displayed their allegiances by flying party flags from their houses, and
by the swiftness and grace with which Arias and his candidate, Carlos Manuel Castillo, conceded
an election decided by four percentage points (51% to 47% of the vote).
19. And they watched with approval as parents leaving the polls dutifully performed a civics
lesson by taking their small children-9,637 of them-to vote in a parallel mock election, won by
20. After nearly a decade of war, it is hard to imagine such a civic fiesta in Nicaragua. For
one thing, the absence of voter registration cards, like the ones produced automatically for each
Costa Rican reaching age 18, makes vote fraud harder to control and disputes inevitable.
21. In an effort to offset suspicions of fraud, the Sandinistas have invited hundreds of
international observers to watch their elections. One of them, Joao Baena Soares, secretary
general of the Organization of American States, said Monday that he was satisfied so far with
preparations for the Nicaraguan vote.
22. Baena Soares, who was here to watch the Costa Rican election, said the two countries
cannot be compared.
23. "Each country has to find its own road to democracy," he said in an interview. "Here (in
Costa Rica) there is a great tradition. . . . What I have seen in Nicaragua allows us to hope that
the elections will be clean."
24. Other observers said the Costa Ricans' quick acceptance of the vote count underscored the
real test in Nicaragua-not who wins, but whether the election leads to national reconciliation.
Los Angeles Times article from which the above commentary was derived: